Various Artists: Bob Dylan in the 80s

bob dylan 80s 2
Various Artists
Bob Dylan In The 80s
3.5 out of 5 stars
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Bob Dylan In The 80s is part reminder, part revelation. The record, which spans the entirety of the 80’s, insists upon a reconsideration of Dylan’s much maligned creative decade. Co-producers Jesse Lauter and Sean O’Brien let the songs speak for themselves, shying away from any radical rearrangements (apart from Reggie Watt’s deconstruction of the mid 80’s epic “Brownsville Girl”).

It’s a pleasure to hear Dylan’s 80’s understated gospel, bluesy rock, and pop rescued from its shamefully dated production. Any Dylan fan lucky enough to already hold the occasional 80’s gem like “Sweetheart Like You,” “Dark Eyes,” and “Pressing On” in high regard will only find their love for some of Dylan’s best 80’s tunes deepened by fitting covers from Craig Finn, Dawn Landes & Bonnie “Prince” Billy, and Glen Hansard, respectively.

But it’s the slightly more adventurous choices that serve as the album’s most convincing statements of the need for an 80’s Dylan reappraisal. Indie duo Lucius turns “When the Night Comes Falling From the Sky” into a pop gem, singer-songwriter Hannah Cohen reinvents “Covenant Woman” as a mournful elegy, and the Yellowbirds provide a convincing argument that the Oh Mercy outtake “Series of Dreams” ought to be considered, alongside “Mississippi” and “Standing In The Doorway,” as one of the most enduring statements from the second half of Dylan’s half-century as a songwriter.

Like any Dylan’s 80’s record, there’s some filler here too. Blitzen Trapper’s too-literal take on the bluesy “Unbelievable” and Tea Leaf Green’s pysch-jam on serious deep track “Waiting To Get Beat” may make listeners briefly remember that they’re listening to seventy minutes of 80’s Dylan, after all.

“In the 80’s Dylan humbled himself to an immersion in the practice of his art as a genre, letting go of the genius tag as full as [he] ever could,” writes novelist Jonathan Lethem in the liner notes to Bob Dylan In The 80s. More often than not, the album’s seventeen tracks prove that this unlikely occasion for yet another Dylan tribute disc is indeed a worthy cause. Sometimes a great song just wants to be a great song, and not much more.


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